Posted on November 11 2015
This week's Wednesday Woman is the impressive Charlotte Pearce who, at age 22, has founded Inkpact, a company using tech to bring back personal, handwritten letters.
Newnham: Can you tell us a bit about yourself - what were you like growing up?
Pearce: I think it is safe to say that growing up I always challenged authority! I was incredibly cheeky and although ‘rebel’ seems a little strong, I am pretty sure that is how my parents would describe me.
I worked hard but only at things I loved doing. I was the girl who distracted people in my class but still got all A’s (sorry Mrs Burton ~ she actually banned me from her biology lessons and nearly fell off her chair when I got an A*). I was regularly put into detention for “messing around” and once got put into isolation for my pink hairband and excessive eyeliner which, to this day, I still think is obscene.
I was also the girl who was constantly hung around with the older kids; this however was strategic because I knew that if I was around the older kids, I could learn how to be ‘grown up’ and more awesome. And, I don’t think anything has changed, although I am now slightly better dressed and wear significantly less eyeliner! I love disrupting things, questioning everything, and I still surround myself with generally older, awesome, people so that I can learn from them. I am certainly still cheeky but my rebel title has now turned into chief hustler!
Newnham: How did you come up with the idea for your business, Inkpact, and how did you turn that idea into a reality?
Pearce: I would love to give you a glamorous introduction to Inkpact but it really was rather plain and simple - in fact, I didn’t even initially realise I had started a business.
Whilst a fresh-faced student running 13 social enterprise projects across the world with a team of 150 members, I constantly had my opportunity hat on. I decided to make it my mission to go to as many personal development events and talks as I could, and one changed my life forever. I was sitting around the table with ten business coaches who told me that handwritten communication was a fantastic asset in today's digital world, but they didn’t have good writing or the time to execute their campaigns. I seized the moment and offered to deliver a service whereby I charged the coaches for the service and my friends handwrote their marketing, it was win-win, I was popular for giving a flexible income to students and coaches were able to send personalised marketing.
When I heard that 100% of people were reading the marketing sent out, I knew I was sitting on a huge opportunity so I launched Inkpact. Inkpact is now offering organisations a way to send truly personalised, handwritten communication at scale. Although our end product is still genuinely handwritten, Inkpact has evolved into a technology based company with 50+ writers (mainly mothers and fathers), a team of eight staff, a technology platform. We are working with companies such as Santander, Makers Academy and MSD UK
As for how I got here - I surrounded myself with the most incredible people, I thought big, I didn’t let me age or gender stop me, I kept being cheeky and I used my experience leading a voluntary team to rally an awesome team who, with me, are pushing Inkpact to new heights. Inkpact is still on its journey to scale, but the best thing I have learnt is put people first and you will win, whether that has been my team, customers, their customers or our writer community, there is no downside.
Newnham: You started the business in 2013, what have been the biggest obstacles so far and how did you overcome them?
Pearce: The biggest obstacle so far has been my own mindset. I am probably one of the most positive people you can meet but I didn’t realise how lonely setting up a business can be, not just in a physical way. Most people just don’t get it, sometimes I will be at a party or out with friends and, in my head, I am fixing issues, fighting fires or coming up with a new marketing strategy so it’s really hard to be present. I still haven’t got this one figured out but surrounding myself with people who get it helps - I highly recommend finding people who are wired like you as that helps.
Another obstacle which I think I have successfully overcome is the feeling that I shouldn’t be here... It only takes a couple of times being mistaken as the secretary or intern, when in fact you are a founder, to knock one’s confidence. However there is also nothing better than putting them in their place, and to see the look on their face when you explain it’s your company!
Newnham: Tell us how you sought investment - we hear you were hustling at The Hospital Club?
Pearce: I did indeed hustle at The Hospital Club. In March this year I took the big jump and moved from my lovely little quiet flat in Southampton to the city (London) to live the real entrepreneur's dream. I needed somewhere to work so a friend recommended The Hospital Club and I loved working in the creative environment surrounded by interesting people.
There was one specific Monday where I was making the decision to take Inkpact to the next level when I spotted the infamous Doug Scott (angel investor) sipping a Sauvignon at the next table. He was meeting with a startup so I couldn’t introduce myself but I took it as a sign I needed to act - so I got out my trusty fountain pen and wrote him a note telling him he had to meet me and promising him I’d buy the Sauvingon next time. I then gave the note to the waitress and when Doug paid the bill he received his note and sent me an email straight away admitting he had been hustled! Serendipity then kicked in and 2 weeks later, Doug was one of the investors on a pitch panel– he handed me investment there and then and, now he is leading my funding round and I have no doubt he will be a lifelong mentor and friend – lesson here is to seize opportunity and be cheeky!
Newnham: What advice would you give to other young women looking to start their own business?
Pearce: It’s a common misconception that to start a business, you need a great idea. Both my businesses have started via execution of an opportunity, and not a complicated mind map of business ideas on a whiteboard.
One of my favourite quotes is, “If I have seen further it has been by standing on the shoulders of giants” – Issaac Newton. I didn’t invent handwritten letters or entrepreneurs, I just utilised their potential to solve people’s problems whilst bettering people’s lives and making money. So my advice is just do something better, smarter, or more efficient than someone else, and take the leap.
Enjoy it, find something you are passionate about and enjoy every moment - too often I get wrapped up in the pressure and forget each day is awesome. Finally, if I haven’t said this enough already - Just Do it! Take the leap - really, what do you have to lose? And in fact, the younger you take the leap to starting your own business, the better because you have even less to lose. At 22, when I started Inkpact, the worst thing that could of happened to me would have been to move back in with the parents.
So... if you are passionate, smart and surround yourself with the right people you will make it. It won’t be easy, and it may not be on your first try but, trust me, it is worth it. I am still on my journey to ‘making it’ but I love what I do and the people I do it with, even on the worst days I would not have it any other way.
Newnham: Great advice. Finally, what / who inspires you?
Pearce: People who choose their own life inspire me, people who grab life with both hands, and people who follow their passion despite the odds inspire me.
My Dad is also a big inspiration of mine. I owe a lot of my journey so far to him, he helped me channel my inner rebel to create value instead of destruction, he handed me my first personal development book and although I rarely make this known, he even suggested I went to the coaching event where Inkpact was born.
The second person that inspires me I haven’t known for very long but she came into my life like a whirlwind and has already made an enormous impact - (previous Wednesday Woman) Emma Sinclair. She is the youngest person to IPO a company and a phenomenal entrepreneur, an incredibly determined, strong, smart and well-dressed superwoman! She is my mentor, a kick-ass role model and I am incredibly grateful to have her in my life.
Charlotte on Twitter